The American poet Sylvia Plath wrote "The Night Dances" in 1962, not long after the birth of her second child. The poem contrasts the beautiful yet fleeting nature of human existence with the infinite darkness of the cosmos. The speaker lovingly watches their child's playful nighttime movements (the "night dances" of the title), all the while sensing that such tender moments are insignificant against the backdrop of a cold, empty universe. The speaker wonders why they've been blessed with these moments of joy and love, knowing that they will inevitably, and too quickly, be lost. The poem was published in 1965 as part of the posthumous collection, Ariel. Plath's husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes said that "The Night Dances" was inspired by their son's twirling movement in his crib.
A smile fell ...
And how will ...
... themselves. In mathematics?
Such pure leaps ...
... sleeps, lilies, lilies.
Their flesh bears ...
... of hot petals.
The comets ...
... gestures flake off—
Warm and human, ...
... lamps, these planets
Falling like blessings, ...
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Poet's Life and Work — A biography of Plath from the Poetry Foundation.
An Essay About "The Night Dances" — A 2012 essay by Emma Komlos-Hrobsky that discusses the poem, published by Tin House Magazine.
50 Years of Ariel — An episode of Poetry Off the Shelf, a podcast about contemporary poetry, which discusses the impact of Ariel, the collection in which "The Night Dances" first appeared.
Forward to the Restored Edition of Ariel — An introduction to the 2010 Restored Edition of Plath's Ariel collection, written by her daughter, Frieda Hughes.
1A smile fell in the grass.
3And how will your night dances
4Lose themselves. In mathematics?
5Such pure leaps and spirals—
6Surely they travel
7The world forever, I shall not entirely
8Sit emptied of beauties, the gift
9Of your small breath, the drenched grass
10Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.
11Their flesh bears no relation.
12Cold folds of ego, the calla,
13And the tiger, embellishing itself—
14Spots, and a spread of hot petals.
16Have such a space to cross,
17Such coldness, forgetfulness.
18So your gestures flake off—
19Warm and human, then their pink light
20Bleeding and peeling
21Through the black amnesias of heaven.
22Why am I given
23These lamps, these planets
24Falling like blessings, like flakes
25Six sided, white
26On my eyes, my lips, my hair
27Touching and melting.